A book drive is underway in Winnipeg to support a program that helps bring reading materials into Manitoba prisons. 

Ashley Huot is the chair of the Manitoba Prison Libraries Committee, a group of volunteers who provide library collections, programming and library awareness to justice-involved people in Manitoba's provincial prisons. 

"I think people are often surprised that most prisons don't have libraries," said Huot. "Unfortunately, in Manitoba, like most provinces, provincial prisons are not mandated to have libraries or provide access to books and library programming."

Huot says when people become incarcerated their rights to information don't disappear, but when there are no systems in place to ensure that those information rights are fulfilled, they're overlooked.

"People need access to books and information for all sorts of reasons," Huot explained. "They might need information for health, legal information, resources to support their education or hobbies. Books, of course, are also a way to access culture, spirituality, and art."

That's where the Prison Libraries Committee comes in, providing all six prisons in Manitoba with quality book collections and functioning library services. 

The biggest job for the committee is sending books to prisons. They also have volunteers who go in and set up books in a room where inmates can come through and look at them. 

"I think folks are just excited to have people come in that want to be there that are not just staff from the prison," said Huot. "When we're setting up the books at the Women's Centre, they're just so excited. They're always peeking through the glass trying to see all the books."

A book drive is currently underway to help support their annual Book and Bake sale next month. 

"It's a fundraiser we do in partnership with another community organization called the Bar None rideshare program," Huot explained. "All books collected through this book drive will support the sale. Some books will also be pulled out and go straight to prison libraries."

Book sale

The group is looking for high-quality, gently used books of all genres. Donations can be dropped off at several locations across Winnipeg, including the Millenium, St. James-Assiniboia, Henderson and St. Vital libraries. They can also be dropped off at the Eadha Bakery on Ellice Avenue or the Thyme Cafe on Tache Avenue until May 31.

The fundraising book sale is set to take place on Saturday, June 22 from 10 a.m.- 3 p.m. at West End Commons.